New Castle, Delaware — The Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) is demanding a public apology from Liberia’s Minister of Information Culture Affairs and Tourism (MICAT), Eugene Nagbe, for his recent verbal attack on two local Liberian journalists. ALJA said it wants Minister Nagbe to openly express regrets to broadcast journalists, Emmanuel Capeheart of the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS) and Estelle Liberty Kemoh of Power TV for the unnecessary public humiliation they suffered at his hands while executing their professional duties at the Capitol Building in Monrovia.
The Capitol Building is the seat of the Liberia National Legislature. ALJA insisted “The Johnson-Sirleaf government spokesman must apologize for the psychological harm he has done to Journalists Kemoh and Capeheart.” According to an ALJA press release issued on January 30, 2017, the Association demand comes in the wake of recent media reports, which accused Mr. Nagbe of using profanity on the journalists for what he at the time considered unprofessional reporting. The incident occurred on Monday, January 24, 2017, at the Capitol Building where journalists Capeheart, Kemo, and several other media personalities converged to cover President Johnson-Sirleaf’s 2017 state of the nation address. Quoting media reports, ALJA said the Information Minister became infuriated when Mr. Capeheart granted a live interview on ELBC radio to Lofa County District Number-5 Representative, Moses Kollie, of the opposition Liberia People Democratic Party (LPDP) minutes following the President’s address.
Representative Kollie is Chairman of the LPDP. As a routine practice in broadcast journalism where the views of eminent newsmakers are often sampled whenever major speeches such as the state of the nation addresses are delivered, the ELBC reporter, sought and granted Rep. Kollie an interview for a dissenting view regarding the President’s address. The Association maintained the live radio interview annoyed the overzealous Information Minister and he became verbally belligerent and authoritative. As a show of power, he rained profanity on Mr. Capeheart and vowed to arbitrarily dismiss him from ELBC. The Information Minister is the Chairman of the LBS Board of Directors. ALJA said Eugene’s dismissal threat and unprovoked verbal aggression on Mr. Capeheart were unwarranted.
Journalistically, ALJA noted, “Mr. Capeheart committed no wrong; he broke no editorial policy or media law. He simply executed one of the cardinal functions for which ELBC was established in 1963.” ALJA said giving media access to all Liberians including Representative Kollie regardless of political, tribal, and religious affiliations constitutes one of the statutory duties of ELBC. The Americas based Liberian Journalists said although Rep. Kollie is an opposition politician; he is a prominent lawmaker. He is also, an integral component of the Sirleaf Administration. ALJA noted it is sad that a siting Minister of Information, who also, doubles as Chairman of the LBS Board of Directors would stoop so low because of his share ignorance of the station’s legal mandates. The Liberian media advocacy group said LBS is a state owned broadcast entity that is amendable only to Liberian tax payers. “ELBC is neither a private media entity of the Sirleaf government nor a propaganda machinery of the ruling Unity Party(UP) where Minister Nagbe, as Secretary General has the latitude to unilaterally decide, who gets an interview or not,” ALJA emphasized.
Commenting on the Minister’s public beef with Journalist Kemoh, ALJA said she ran into trouble with the Liberian government spokesman when she attempted to seek clarification from him regarding the controversial news interview which journalist Capeheart granted Rep. Kollie. When she asked him what was the problem with him and the Representative, the Minister angrily responded to her question by telling her to “go and ask her boyfriend, Rep. Moses Kollie.” The Association maintained Minister Nagbe’s uncouth response to Mrs. Kemoh must be denounced by all Liberians at home and abroad including President Johnson-Sirleaf.
ALJA said “For Eugene to publicly accuse Journalist Kemoh of engaging in extra marital affairs while performing her reportorial duty without any iota of truth is crude, horrendous, and unfortunate.” Meanwhile, the Association is calling on all Liberian journalists, friends of the Liberian media, and the international community to stand in unison with ALJA in demanding a public apology from the MICAT boss. ALJA expressed gratitude to the Female Journalists Association of Liberia (FeJAL), Reporters Association of Liberia (RAL), and the Legislative Press Pool (Legispol) for being the first auxiliaries of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) to take such heroic stance against the Information Minister. The Association proposed that if Minister Nagbe refuses to apologize to the journalists for the humiliation caused them, then, President Johnson-Sirleaf should rethink his continuous stay in government. ALJA said the Minister’s actions have the propensity of putting a dimple in image of the Sirleaf government despite the laudable work the Liberian leader has done over the years in promoting and advancing press freedom in Liberia.
ALJA said as Liberia prepares for another crucial election in October 2017, the country does not need an overzealous Information Minister, who would blatantly choose to publicly denigrate, harass, and cow members of the Liberian media while performing their professional duties just to win unwarranted political favor from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, or maintain his stay at the Information Ministry.
The Association said it is imperative that Minister Nagbe desist from actions and behaviors that have the likelihood of undermining the prevailing level of press freedom in Liberia. In July of 2016, ALJA called for the resignation or dismissal of Minister Nagbe from the Sirleaf government when he was elected Secretary General of the UP. Then, the Association said his election to the UP Secretary General post posed serious conflict of interest for him in the performance of his statutory duties in government as Minister of Information. Then, ALJA wondered what would be the Minister’s disposition when confronted with critical national matters that hinge on the interests of the Liberian government, UP, and opposition political parties.